Archive for March, 2014

Beyond the law: Protecting Morocco’s women

March 02, 2014 By: Sarah Category: Press

In a February article published in Al Jazeera, Leila Hanafi and Sarah Alaoui discuss recommendations to protecting women in Morocco against violence:

At a conference on gender violence held in Rabat, Morocco in late January, UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo commended the country on its recently introduced draft bill protecting women against violence. The Moroccan government paid attention to the issue following a 2006 United Nations study showed the extent to which violence prevented women from fulfilling their potential, restricted economic growth and undermined development.

Given the exigent consequences of violence against women on the economic welfare of communities, it became one of Morocco’s pressing obligations to seriously address the issue. However, despite the advances Moroccan legislation made to improve women’s rights, they remained hindered by several obstacles.

Many are aware of the grim story of 16-year-old Amina Filali’s forced marriage to her alleged rapist and subsequent suicide that threw Morocco’s Article 475 into international headlines. The article protects a rapist from prosecution if he married his victim. Following efforts by grassroots activists, and an Avaaz petition to repeal it, the article reemerged into the spotlight this month when it was repealed by the country’s parliament.

Though the abrogation is a positive step forward, yet Article 475 is only the tip of the iceberg. Amina’s fate, along with a number of complex issues afflicting Morocco including cracks in the justice system, gaping socioeconomic inequalities, and a need to comply with international standards, is one that can be prevented from haunting others.

A legal culture of impunity

The last few weeks in Morocco have seen heightening efforts by civil society and media campaigners to shed more light on gender violence in the country, a society in which both de facto and de jure shortcomings in women’s rights exist. Coupled with a deeply entrenched culture of impunity – especially with issues concerning honour – the country’s legal system suffers from bureaucratic weaknesses that stall investigation and implementation. Moreover, female victims of violence are often presumed to be accomplices and questions of consent overshadow the harm they’ve incurred.

Alleged rapists often receive the benefit of mediation with the blessings of legal aides, police and religious figures without facing prosecution. In order for women to feel protected against violence, a culture of zero tolerance for rape must be enforced.

Female victims of violence in Morocco need to feel that they can trust the system to protect their rights and bring them justice without having – oftentimes- to resort to extreme “solutions”. Their rehabilitation and safety must be emphasised as much as their honour has been.

Another notable weakness of the ability of the Moroccan legal system to protect victims is rooted in court delays, a feature typical of the country’s bureaucracy. There are multiple causes of delay including prolonged hearings; insufficient human and financial resources in courtrooms; mismanagement and disorganisation of court resources and caseload; inefficient legal procedures and court processes; and party delays.

Numerous legislative and administrative initiatives have been undertaken over the years to address these issues. And while many have been successful in their specific aims, the issue continues to be flagrant. An efficient and effective court system is crucial to the administration of justice to protect the rights of female victims of violence.

Disparities in resource access

There are several women’s rights groups and civil society actors in Morocco who work freely to promote gender equality and equal access to justice in the country. While their efforts have gained momentum in recent years, they are often challenged by a conservative culture – especially in underprivileged areas such as Amina’s village in the outskirts of Larache. In these places, there is little to no information on civil society groups and the services they provide.

Furthermore, few have conducted research on the human, material and financial resources of the civil society organisations working with rural women. As Moroccan Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development Bassima Hakkaoui has repeatedly said[Fr], more resources and support must be allocated to women’s shelters. This falls under the need for greater coordination between the government and local actors to accurately target and fulfil the needs of these women.

Many rural areas lack basic infrastructure such as roads, which prevent civil society organisations usually based in major urban centers such as Rabat or Casablanca, to exert the same levels of influence in rural areas as they can in urban areas. Something as simple as a road can make the difference between whether a wronged woman in a village can obtain access to justice or not.

Many women, including Amina, who had to make trips from Larache to Tangier to attend court hearings, do not have physical access to legal aid or the resources of non-profit organisations. Many more are unaware or misinformed about their legal rights, and many lawyers refuse to take on pro-bono cases or lower their service rates for victims in rural areas. All women who have been subject to violence must have access to a legal counsel – justice should not have a price tag.

Compliance with international standards

It is not entirely true to say that progress has not been made on improving women’s rights in Morocco. Positive steps have been taken to amend the family law (the Moudawana). In urban areas these amendments have created a system for effectively dealing with the increased numbers of women filing domestic violence complaints within the court system. Article 336 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which previously only allowed women to take civil action against their husbands with prior authorisation from the court was also changed, now granting women equal access to the legal system.

In 2003, ammendements were made to the penal code to allow for heavier penalties on a spouse who inflicts harm upon the other spouse. Moreover, health care workers are now authorised to waive professional confidentiality agreements in cases of gender-based violence and to report such incidents to the appropriate authorities.

Morocco has also taken unprecedented steps in the country’s history to help eradicate discrimination against women and to improve gender equality by ratifying international instruments of human rights. The country is party to several international rights agreements including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

These are all encouraging steps forward in Morocco’s path to protecting women against violence and to preserving their rights. However, in order for their implementation to be effective, they need to be enforced in tandem with national legislation. By ratifying these international instruments, Morocco has committed to preventing discrimination against women and to assuring gender parity with regards to human rights. However, despite these international commitments, shortcomings in the status of women’s legal rights in Morocco still prevail.

A common discrepancy between implementation and international commitments, for example, is with the minimum age for marriage and Article 2 of the CEDAW which urges state parties to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions conform to this obligation.

Though Moroccan law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 for both males and females, judges often waive this requirement at their own discretion, allowing female minors to get married. The laws are bent because culturally speaking, girls tend to marry far older men and are often married when they are under 18. This does not absolve Morocco of its responsibility to the stipulations of CEDAW and the need to comply with international standards.

Today, the advances Morocco has achieved since the millennium have contributed largely to improving many human development indicators, especially for women. The journey to protect Morocco’s women is on the right track, but it is far from over. It remains one of the many examples of how societies in the Middle East and North Africa are increasingly grappling with balancing tradition and the human imperative of making society more just for women.

Leila Hanafi is a Moroccan-American international lawyer, and policy expert from Georgetown University, George Washington University, and American University, Washington DC, USA. Ms. Hanafi is the founder and chief lawyer at the international law firm and think-thank ARPA, the Alliance for Rule of Law Promotion & Alternative Dispute Resolution, in Washington DC, USA.

Sarah Alaoui is an independent writer currently based in Washington D.C. Her work focuses primarily on North Africa.

Interview with Leila Hanafi on How the Moroccan Diaspora is Pioneering Rule of Law Reform

March 02, 2014 By: Sarah Category: Press

Reinventing the Rules” interviews Leila Hanafi on how the Moroccan Diaspora is pioneering rule of law reform:

Interview with Leila Hanafi on How the Moroccan Diaspora is Pioneering Rule of Law Reform

If you don’t know by now, there are two things I’m passionate about promoting more of in the rule of law sector. The first is more youth-focused efforts and the other is increasing the role of Diaspora’s in this field. The Moroccan Diaspora has been active on both fronts! In 2011, Morocco took the unprecedented step of providing their Diaspora with guaranteed rights under their new constitution. The Diaspora is now pioneering the first round of virtual consultations around the world to receive feedback from Moroccan civil society organizations working abroad on just how they can become involved in rule of law efforts in Morocco. To learn more, scroll below to read my interview with Leila Hanafi, an appointee to the Moroccan commission on National Dialogue on Constitutional Reform.

Can you talk a little about how you’ve mobilized the Diaspora to participate in this process?

This is a landmark initiative in Morocco to use technology to engage with the Moroccan diaspora abroad. Although this consultative process also included physical consultations with the Diaspora in Europe, our Commission realized that it is not sufficient as the Moroccan Diaspora is dispersed across the world and not only concentrated in Europe. Here, it should be noted that Moroccan emigration evolved at an unprecedented pace starting from the 1960s. As a result, today Moroccans living abroad represent around 10% of the total population of the country (over 3.6 millions), and constitute the largest and most dispersed African immigrant population in Europe.

Can you also provide any background on the type of civil society organizations that have been involved in the consultations?

Thus far, the majority of organizations that have been active actors in the consultations are youth-oriented ones that mobilize the youthful population of Moroccans residing abroad as well as community-development oriented ones.

Much of the questions in the first round of consultations focused on the perception Moroccan civil society organizations abroad have of the new constitution and whether the mechanisms to enable inclusion of the Diaspora in decision-making processes are sufficient. Why was perception an important priority to start off with?

The focus on this perception analysis was deemed essential as it was never concluded before. As Morocco is concerting efforts to develop organic laws, starting with an analysis of perceptions is the precursor for cementing diaspora’s interest and understanding of what’s coming ahead; and also to promote the enhancement of an enabling environment for Diaspora engagement, including organic law development, and active participation in this consultative process.

As such, this virtual scoping exercise is informing the reporting to the National Commission on focus areas that ought to be priorities for the development of the organic law for public participation of Moroccan civil society outside the country.

The Moroccan Commission on National Dialogue and New Constitutional Prerogatives is currently compiling the responses you’ve received from your initial consultations. Any chance we can get some initial insight on what you’ve found so far from your consultations?

Yes, there is a general consensus that:

-As the number of Moroccans living abroad increases, the need to bring them under the protection of the constitution becomes essential.
-Boost Civic Engagement: Capacity building and technical assistance for Moroccan civil society groups active abroad that can contribute to preserving a Moroccan identity through development, linguistic, religious and cultural dimensions
-Need to enhance Participatory governance and the diaspora’s engagement and democratic representativeness remain an issue. More diaspora members should be present in consultative processes that are initiated by the Moroccan government: Participatory governance and the diaspora’s engagement and democratic representativeness remain an issue although the 2011 adopted constitution tackles the diaspora (i.e. Articles 16-17-18 -30-163).

In the West, Diaspora’s are often thought about almost exclusively in economic terms and the remittances they provide to families back home. How do you envision the Moroccan Diaspora’s role in engaging with rule of law efforts 5-10 years from now and what kind of efforts do you believe they can be most effective with?

The Moroccan Diaspora can facilitate the:

-Transfer of expertise and cross-fertilization of experiences from their host countries towards their home countries in the area of law making. To ensure that the process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient, inclusive approach with the Diaspora is essential.
-Policymakers in Morocco increasingly recognize the value that Diaspora populations bring to development efforts at home, not just as senders of remittances but also as sources of human capital and direct and indirect investments. Yet the existing mechanisms of Diaspora engagement, while positive, are insufficient if not integrated in a broad-based strategy, premised in an inclusive legal framework for positive engagement.
-It is particularly important in the wake of the Arab Spring as Morocco has adopted a revised constitution that tackles the rights of the Moroccan Diaspora. Participatory governance, Diaspora’s political rights, and democratic representativeness remain a key area for elaboration, notably that the 2011 adopted Constitution tackles Diaspora rights (i.e. Articles 16-17-18 -30-163). As the number of Moroccans living abroad increases, the need to bring them under the protection of the constitution becomes essential.

Also, it is worth noting that Morocco is part of many international legal instruments relating to human rights law. Some stipulations of the 2011 Moroccan Constitution declare that international conventions ratified by Morocco should be applicable directly as domestic law. Some of these provisions relate to the Moroccan Diaspora abroad. However, the non-economic aspect of diaspora contribution remains secondary. This is, particularly, relevant in terms of access to rights and the urgent need to focus on a rights-based approach when analyzing Moroccan Diaspora engagement.

Any tangible steps made in the ongoing development of Morocco cannot be successful without the healthy marriage of good governance and the active participation of its citizens not only inside Morocco but also OUTSIDE the country. This landmark initiative for Morocco- which has the potential to empower Moroccans, in their home country and abroad- to participate in policy-making, through mechanisms of public consultations and dialogue has the potential to inspire concerted actions and meaningful progress in ushering in a new era of participatory rule of law in Morocco.

What was one thing that surprised you to learn when working on these consultations?

The overwhelming responses not only from Moroccans residing abroad but also second- generation of Moroccans who were born and raised abroad and still fully engaged in Moroccan affairs

Leila Hanafi is a Moroccan American lawyer and the founder of the international law firm and think-thank ARPA, the Alliance for Rule of Law Promotion & Alternative Dispute Resolution, in Washington DC, USA.